This week, I’ve been cycling around Oxford delivering letters inviting people to a concert. It’s a bit old school to be using snail mail rather than these modern forms of electronic communication. But, in a way its a lot of fun cycling around Oxford looking for addresses. It’s a nice and easy training session. Going up to Kidlington and back gives a good 25 miles, for 2 hours of level 1. It’s not too often I average 12.5mph for a training ride, but it’s something a bit different.
Since the national last week, I’ve had a couple of hand written letters from 2 really old school time triallists. Keith Williams of the Oxford CC, and Brian James of Brighton Mitre. Both these ‘experienced’ riders are regulars of the time trial season. I often bump into them at races and have a chat. Brian James has been my minute man on the Bentley course, more often than you would believe. I used to ride with his son Tom at OUCC.
I wouldn’t want to guess their age, but I imagine they were born in an era where the closest to social networking was the good old fashioned telegraph cable. Hand written letters are so rare – it’s quite a thrill to get something through the post, which isn’t an electricity bill or an estate agent offering to sell your house.
The thing about delivering letters, is that the bicycle wins hands down. Delivering on foot would be painfully slow. Delivering by car would be no fun. Always getting stuck in traffic jams, finding somewhere to park, stopping / starting, one way systems. The bicycle is the perfect medium for delivering letters. If you treat it as a low level training session, it doesn’t even matter if you get lost and end up doing U-turns up and down Cumnor hill because you can’t find one road.
Though as much as I love old school technology, I have to admit to sometimes relying on the young pretender of the ‘Google map App’ it is magically good at showing you the way to go. Is it more fun than looking at a map? I’m not sure.
I was kind of lost in Botley, going up and down this hill, stopping to look at a map. A gaggle of young school-children thought it was great fun watching this cyclist going up and down a hill looking for addresses. Their parents spoke to me saying the children thought you must be a great cycling champion. It was interesting how much joy young children were getting – just from seeing someone just cycling up and down a hill. One thing I can never claim is to be the fastest postie on a bike. That is undeniable Matt Bottrill. Matt works full-time as a postman, but still finds time to train with great focus and intensity. It enabled him to get on the podium of the British Time Trial champion this year, beating quite a few professionals into the bargain. He also recently won his first senior national title, after several years of trying (100 mile TT in 2012) and 50 miles – , and circuit TT in 2013.
But, delivering letters on bike is far removed from the world of competitive racing. It’s just a good reminder that the bike really is a great invention.
This weekend is 3 new hill climbs. Holme Moss (Holme Valley Wheelers), Jackson Bridge (Granville Sydney Memorial event, Huddersfield Star Wheelers) and Mow Cop (Lyme Racing CC) on Sunday. They all look interesting climbs. I’m hoping the gales in the north are blowing the right way up the hills. The hills may either be slow or very slow depending on the direction of the wind. Holme Moss is one of the highest hill climbs in England at 524m. Next year the Tour de France will pass over Holme Moss, probably with greater fan fare than tomorrow morning. But, it’s all happening up in Yorkshire.
The start sheet for the National Hill climb was published yesterday. I’m off number 174, (14.54) There are a lot of familiar names around. My minute man is ironically Sam Ward who inspired me to do my first hill climb over 20 years ago… 180 riders in total. Roads will be closed. More on Nat Hill climb
With the national championships two weeks away, it’s time to start making the last preparations to bike. (rule no.1 is never leave it to the night before) Last year I spent nearly £1,000 on trying to make the bike lighter. This year I spent nothing and sold the lightweight stem and handlebars, preferring to have some extra money than some 100 grams saving. The only thing I bought this year was the Quark power meter, which broke after four weeks. (Keep your money in your pocket is always a good Yorkshire man’s motto)
However, since I’ve had a relatively frugal year of bike components, I did treat myself to a new chain. There are some things which you shouldn’t skimp on a cyclist. Firstly is tyres. Secondly is changing your chain regularly. On my racing bike, I change every 1,000 miles, and always before a big event. You don’t want to lose any power to a worn chain. I don’t usually spend £50 on a chain. But, if there’s ever a time to justify spending £50 on a lightweight chain, this would be it. I bought SRAM because I have snapped a Dura Ace chain doing hill intervals. In other circumstances it may sound cool to say you put down so much power you broke a Dura Ace chain, but if there was ever a time you didn’t want to snap your chain, this would be it.
I also treated myself to a new handlebar tape. I was sold on the packaging which said ‘thin tape with almost zero added weight’ – Those are words that instantly appeal to any hill climber. ‘Almost zero added weight’ and I’ve bought before you can say ‘how much does it weigh?’
Sometimes at national champs, you see bikes without any handlebar tape at all. Every gram stripped from the bike. There is a certain Zen appeal to a bare, stripped down bike. But, for the Stang, you may be on different parts of the handlebars including the drops. If it only weighs a couple of grams there is greater benefit from having a better grip. It could be cold and wet up in North Yorkshire. There are more important factors than even a few grams of extra weight.
The general theory of cycle training is going through periods of high load – where you stretch your efforts, then allowing a period of recovery to allow the training stress to translate into improved performance. I can’t claim any particular strong record in knowing how to peak for a particular event. But, I assume the general principle is to train hard and then allow a tapering period in the last two weeks. It means these first two weeks of October are pretty high intensity. I’ve been trying to get a lot of intervals in this week. Plus the training effect of races at the weekend. The last two weeks of October will then begin a gradual decline in duration of training, though still keeping some high intensity efforts.
This weekend is another hill climb double. Firstly on Saturday, it’s back to my old club Otley CC for their double hill climb header on Guise Hill (Pateley Bridge) and Norwood Edge. I first did this hill climb over 20 years ago. But, in those days I was more interested in the Sunday club runs than efforts of 5 mins. In fact my first couple of hill climb entries, managed to put me off hill climbs for the next 13 years…
On Sunday, it’s a new hill climb for me – Horseshoe pass, organised by Wrexham CC. I’ve never seen the climb before. But, 3 miles at a constant average gradient of 5.5% ticks quite a few boxes for me. With a course record of just over 9 minutes (set by James Dobbin), it is very similar in length and duration to this year’s national championship on the Stang.
The competition is strong with Richard Handley, Rapha CC (fresh from a top 15 placing in the Tour of Britain), and former national champions – Matt Clinton and James Dobbin on the 120 strong startsheet.
As much as you can for a hill climb, I’m kind of looking forward to them.
I began cycling in the early 1990s, aged about 14. After a few rides on my own, I was invited by a friend, Sam Ward, to join Otley CC and take part in their Sunday rides. The club would meet every Sunday at 9am by the butter cross market in the centre of Otley.
In those days cycling was a much smaller sport, it was more on the fringe of society. So to see 60 plus cyclists sitting around Otley town centre made quite an impression. Joining a cycling club was pretty exciting for a young keen cyclist. It made you feel part of something, a nice change from ploughing a lonely furrow. Everyone looked as though they were wizened cyclists with plush bikes and years of experience. I assumed that everyone would be ridiculously fit and fast after training for the past 20 + years. I was nervous about getting dropped so, initially joined the ‘slow group’. After a few weeks I made the jump to the intermediates, and then after a few months I graduated to the ‘A’ Group led by Jack. However, I never made the jump to the fourth group. The fourth group were called the ‘fast’ group and were comprised of guys who would spend all summer racing. They looked suitably fast and I was too intimidated to ever consider joining the guys who raced. I assumed it would be 25mph all the way to the tea shop, I didn’t want to embarrass myself by making people wait on the climbs. So I stuck with the older men and women in the A group. We may not have been fast, but we did clock up the miles!
Rules of the road
One golden rule drummed into me from an early age, is make sure you have mudguards in winter, otherwise you’re at the back! I remember spending hours trying to fit these old fashioned fiddly mudguards with nuts and bolts, a far cry from todays clip on mudguards. Not everything is golden about the past. I only had one bike in those days – a good old Reynolds 501 frame costing £200 from Ellis Briggs in Shipley. It probably weighed a ton, but I never gave a passing thought to the weight of components in those days. It had drop handlebars and I knew that made me a ‘proper’ cyclist!
Apart from mudguards in winter, there weren’t really any rules about club runs, but there were some general principles. Firstly, no-body would get dropped. If someone was slow on the hills, we would always wait. I remember one occasion, when some young lads tacked onto the club run, but they didn’t realise how far we were going. I think they got confused between group B and group A. One poor boy was suffering like anything – 40 miles from home. But, the group leaders made sure we got them home, even if it meant averaging 11mph all the way home, pushing the young boy up the climb and giving him some jam sandwiches.
That camaraderie was a special feature of the club runs. I remember one winter club run and my hands were freezing. I kept shoving my hands up my jersey, blowing on them, everything to try and keep them from freezing. An older member saw my plight and just took off his gloves and gave them to me for the ride. I didn’t even know him. But, I really appreciated the gloves.
15mph all day.
Needless to say there was never any half-wheeling or attacking on a club run. It was all at a sensible pace, without any competitive spirit. Once or twice a year there would be ‘reliability rides’ usually 50 miles in 3 hours. But, generally we would average 15mph for a days riding. But to do 100 miles, would still take 8 hours because any club run invariably involved 2 or 3 cafe stops. With more time for a good chat. Perhaps people had more time, but we would think of nothing to leaving the house at 9am and get back at 5pm.
Miles, more miles
Sunday club runs were gloriously unconcerned with modern training methods of intervals and heart rate zones, not to speak of meaningless GPS segments. It was all about miles and enjoying the cycling. The thing I most enjoyed about the club runs were doing huge distances that I would never have considered possible on my own. Each club run became an opportunity to go further than before. I remember after some club runs returning home utterly exhausted. The last incline of the day Otley to Menston (Ellar Ghyll) may have been only 20 metres elevation gain, but I would often do it at walking pace because I was totally spent after cycling 100 miles. The sense of achievement was really quite something. I loved that feeling of tiredness. To replicate it, I would probably have to take a long break from cycling and then do a 100 mile ride with relatively little training. My only regret was not doing the famous Morecambe 150 mile ride. I was always put off by distance, but I think I could have done it.
In summer, our group leader – mile muncher Jack – would sometimes start the A group off at 8am, so we could go even further. This would enable us to make exotic locations like Muker in Swaledale, Sedbergh in Dentdale. Memorable rides.
Another aspect of the Otley CC club runs which were so appealing was we were in a very fortunate location. The Yorkshire Dales were within easy reach. Every ride was in beautiful surroundings which encouraged the touring mindset.
Cycling two abreast
The 1990s weren’t exactly the halcyon days of the 1950s when bicycles outnumbered cars 100 to 1. But, I don’t remember much conflict with cars. On Sundays, the roads seemed fairly quite. We would always seek out the quietest roads and for most of the time were able to cycle two abreast. If a car got stuck behind, someone would shout, ‘car up’ and we would single out allowing the car to pass. There were probably a few impatient drivers, but nothing I can particularly remember. It seemed quite easy to co-exist with other cars. You definitely felt a greater sense of security riding in a pack of 8-10 riders. I always followed the leadership of the older members, but we always seemed considerate to other road users. Sundays were a popular day for other club runs and we would often bump into other clubs going out for their ride, like Airedale Olympic and Harrogate Nova.
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